2016 Best of the Capitol

Best of the Capitol 2016

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The 2016 Best of the Capitol winners

Best Elected Official – Republican

Governor Doug Ducey

It’s great to be governor, and it’s even greater to be a governor with broad support within one’s party. In his roughly 18 months in office, Gov. Doug Ducey has moved seamlessly from one victory to another, all while avoiding the strife that hounded his predecessors in office and largely keeping Arizona in the news as a success story, not a punchline on “The Daily Show.”

Ducey-Headshot-OfficialDucey has earned high marks not only for unifying the Republican Party and helping attract businesses to Arizona, but for leading the way on important policies. Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham cited Ducey’s pushes for a statewide civics test and criminal justice reform. But more than anything in the last year, the governor has been lauded for Proposition 123, his successful plan to settle a long-running education funding lawsuit that could have seen the state pay billions of dollars from the general fund over the next decade. Instead, much of that money will come from the state land trust, after voters in May narrowly approved the ballot measure in a special election.

“Governor Ducey’s politically brilliant State Land Trust proposal will significantly increase funding for K-12 (and other Land Trust recipients) without raising taxes and having a minimal impact on the state’s general fund,” said Matt Gress, a policy adviser at the Arizona Corporation Commission who used to work as a legislative budget analyst.

Lobbyist Steve Barclay said Ducey earned the title of Best Elected Official by virtue of the direction the state is moving under his leadership.

“He’s extremely effective in setting the vision for our state and having the right leadership traits and team behind him to execute on that vision,” Barclay said.

Best Elected Official – Democrat

Sen. Steve Farley

Steve Farley brings an artist’s flair to his work as a legislator, which makes a certain amount of sense, given that his day job is as an artist. Sometimes that tendency manifests itself as a dramatic and impassioned floor speech, but more often than not, it’s visible in how he approaches issues. As one would expect from any lawmaker in a leadership role, partisan ideology certainly frames issues for Farley, but, like many artists, he tends to approach things on a different wavelength.

Steve FarleyProblems need solutions, but Farley often sets about finding those solutions from a different starting point, resulting in a sometimes unexpected dialogue about not just what must be done to fix a problem, but even the nature of the problem itself.

Artistically oriented though he may be, Farley is anything but the Hollywood stereotype of the flighty, disorganized artist. Rather, he is dedicated to the craft of legislating in the same way history’s greatest artists were to theirs. His Senate office evokes not the messy workspace often imagined for the right-brain-dominant, but the orderly confines of someone thoroughly driven by his left-brain – albeit, with more attention paid to the art decorating his space.

Farley is respected for his “deep understanding of complex policy issues,” said lobbyist Beth Lewallen. She also lauded him for his firm commitment to his beliefs – he’s a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, as anyone who’s witnessed him in legislative action can confirm – and his ability to foster partnerships with Republicans.

“His sense of humor builds relationships on both sides of the aisle, and his consistency on key issues is so notable that I sometimes think ‘HURF’ might be his middle name,” Lewallen said, referring to Farley’s annual quest to improve funding for local transportation projects, especially those in Pima County.

Sen. Don Shooter, the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee on which Farley serves, jokes about his colleague being an “orator extraordinaire.”

“He brings a certain loquaciousness to every meeting of the Appropriations Committee. There can be no doubt that, if Ronald Reagan had not taken the nickname ‘the Great Communicator,’ it would have gone to Senator Farley,” he says.

Best Debater – Republican Lawmaker

Sen. John Kavanagh

When John Kavanagh rises to give a floor speech in the Senate, there is little doubt about who is speaking. His New York accent is no doubt less pronounced than it was before he moved to Arizona in the early 1990s, but it is nonetheless distinctive in a Legislature largely dominated by atonic speech. And Kavanagh’s speaking style is one built on making forceful points that address those made by his opponents on an issue, be they Democrats (most often) or members of his own party.

Kavanagh, John“One reason Senator Kavanagh is such an effective debater is that he completely believes in the issues he is discussing,” says Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

Kavanagh has built a reputation as someone for whom there are no half-measures when it comes to debating. If he stands to speak on a bill on the Senate floor, observers can be certain that he will be fully committed to doing so and won’t mail in his support or opposition.

And though he may be blunt with “remarks that can cut to the quick, they are always on the topic and never personal,” says Strobeck.

Kavanagh has another tool at his disposal: humor. Frequently sardonic, often quick to elicit a laugh in otherwise serious discussions, he is always looking for ways to bring some levity to legislative proceedings.

“One not-so-secret weapon to his success as a debater is his ready sense of humor which he uses to disarm his opponents,” Strobeck says.

Lobbyist Gretchen Jacobs agrees, calling Kavanagh “quick-witted, substantive, fearless and entertaining.”

Best Debater – Democratic Lawmaker

Rep. Eric Meyer

House Minority Leader Eric Meyer isn’t one to toot his own horn, despite having one of the most unique paths to the Capitol and rising to a level that, a decade ago, didn’t seem possible for a Democrat from a Republican-leaning swing district. A retired emergency room doctor, he began his political career almost as a fluke, with a hastily-organized write-in campaign following the sudden resignation of a Democrat in the old Legislative District 11. He made the 2008 November ballot, then pulled off an upset and captured the second House seat, defeating a Republican in the moderate GOP district.

2015BOTCmeyer2After eight years in the House, Meyer has clearly come into his own and out of the shadows, having been chosen prior to the 2015 legislative session to lead the House Democrats. His leadership style is often rooted in his low-key personality, but one shouldn’t be fooled: Meyer’s quiet demeanor is not a signal that he is to be taken lightly. Rather, it is a testament to his thoughtful nature, and it makes the occasions when he engages in debate that much more powerful.

Meyer has also mastered the dark arts of the chamber’s rules, and is among the few legislators who knows them well enough to employ procedural moves aimed at giving the minority Democrats some leverage.

As he said in response to his nomination last year as Best Debater – an honor he won, by the way – he prides himself on being “a compelling, passionate orator who knows when to shut up.”

Best Committee Chair, Best Power Broker

Sen. Don Shooter

There must be something in the water in Yuma: With his win, Don Shooter has been named Best Committee Chair for the third year in a row for his work leading the Senate Appropriations Committee and is the latest to be minted Best Power Broker. The garrulous senator from Yuma is well-regarded for his penchant for humor and desire to broker compromises on complicated issues.

Shooter,-Don“When everyone is dug in – and no compromise seems possible – he seeks solutions. He is principled without being an ideologue with a strong sense of fairness. With a few notable exceptions, believes that there is typically a middle ground,” says lobbyist Gretchen Jacobs.

This year, he also won praise for work he did outside of his role as committee chairman: spearheading the early 2016 push to restore funding scheduled to be cut from Joint Technical Education Districts, or JTEDs. The programs on the chopping block educate high schoolers in a trade and have been tremendously successful, but a budget provision from 2015 threatened their entire existence, JTED supporters said.

Beginning in late 2015, Shooter was at the forefront of the issue, rallying the troops so that, when the legislative session began in January, there would be a concerted effort to make restoring the funding priority No. 1.

Things didn’t go as smoothly as hoped, but the end result was nonetheless a success: The roughly $30 million was restored and the JTED programs breathed a sigh of relief. They also heaped praise on the lawmakers who led the effort, including Shooter.

“Senator Shooter understands and respects the idea that many youth cannot do well in academics until they have found their passion in (career and technical education). Once their career pathway in CTE is chosen, then the importance of doing well in academics emerges,” says Matt Weber, superintendent of Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology, a JTED in Northern Arizona.

Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said Shooter succeeds in large part because he is someone people are drawn to, which gives him a level of access unavailable to most people.

“Senator Shooter has incredible access because everyone wants to be in on the fun of being around him. Who doesn’t have a Shooter story to tell? He is funny, engaging and interesting and never takes himself too seriously. Since he is in the middle of everything, he is in a perfect position to bring people together on issues,” Strobeck says.

Best Committee of the Whole Chair

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth

Anyone who has witnessed a Committee of the Whole chaired by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth knows that participants have to be on their toes and prepared to move with the utmost urgency. Stragglers will be, and often are, left behind, as Farnsworth moves rapid-fire through the list of bills set to be debated and amended. If a legislator isn’t prepared when he or she is called on, Farnsworth doesn’t hesitate to read their lines for them, and a legislative homage of sorts to the call-and-repeat common in some churches.

2015BOTCfarnsworthIn addition to setting land-speed records for COWs, he is also frequently called on to oversee calendars with contentious bills. Farnsworth is both loyal to the goals of his Republican colleagues and knows the procedural rules as well as almost anyone, a reservoir of knowledge that allows him to keep a handle on debates that might spin out of control were a less experienced lawmaker in the chair.

“When you see Representative Farnsworth strap in the Speaker’s chair for COW, you know there’s going to be a tussle,” says Farrell Quinlan, Arizona state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Michael DiMiaria, director of legislative affairs for CenturyLink, said he is taken by the way Farnsworth ensures the bills are debated in an orderly fashion and how he aggressively protects the reputations of all legislators by ensuring that the debate stays civil and focused on the policy at hand, not the supposed motivations of those supporting or opposing it.

“Representative Farnsworth runs the most efficient COW of any legislator. His understanding of both Roberts Rules and the rules of the chamber are unmatched. He handles COW in a calm matter-of-fact fashion that allows all sides to be heard and keeps members focused and on point,” DiMiaria says.

Best Dressed – Male

Sen. Carlyle Begay

Sen. Carlyle Begay

Sen. Carlyle Begay

Since Sen. Carlyle Begay arrived on the political scene in 2013, he’s been a mainstay of the Best of the Capitol awards. In 2014, he was named Best Political Rising Star and nominated for Best Shoes – Male. This year, he retains the title he took home last year as winner of the Best Dressed – Male category.

Begay is always impeccably dressed, whether his work at the Capitol consists of legislative hearings or simply returning a few phone calls and answering his email.

“Look at the guy,” says Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham.

Begay’s style is plucked from the pages of fashion magazines, and he is well known for his dapper and elegant business suits, as well as his stylish shoes. After all, he was nominated for the Best Shoes – Male award this year, as well.

Best Dressed – Female

Nicole LaSlavic

In the crowded field of well-dressed women at the Capitol, Nicole LaSlavic stands above the rest.

LaSlavic, NicoleWith her tasteful accessories and timeless choices, her style is effortlessly chic and instantly conveys a sense of confidence.

LaSlavic is the vice president of government affairs for the Arizona Association of Realtors, a job which surely means she’s surrounded by well-dressed men and women whose faces we see on billboards and benches around the city.

“She is always well put together and accessorized,” said Steve Barclay, a lobbyist for the Beer and Wine Distributors of Arizona.

And competition was tough for the best dressed female category, particularly from Axiom lobbyists. Other nominees included Jessie Armendt, associate at Axiom Public Affairs; Kelsey Lundy, partner at Axiom Public Affairs; Jessica Pacheco, vice president of state and local affairs at Arizona Public Service; and Penny Taylor, the chief public policy officer at Valley of the Sun United Way.

Best Shoes – Male

Stan Barnes

Barnes, Stan.jpegStan Barnes is known for several things. He is bluntly honest about his view of the political landscape, has a snappy way with words that gives his observations an unexpected strength and he has a vast collection of cowboy boots.

“You see them coming,” says Mike Keeling, a lobbyist for the Arizona Telecommunications and Information Council.

Barnes’ boots give him a swagger and can serve as an icebreaker whether meeting a new lawmaker or a prospective client, though he’s quick to acknowledge that they are a guilty pleasure, and they serve both as a testament to his own personal style and an homage to Arizona’s history as both frontier land and the wild, wild West.

“He’s a stylish guy with good shoes – simple as that,” said Jen Marson, executive director Arizona Association of Counties.

Best Shoes – Female

Secretary of State Michele Reagan

Michele Reagan is no stranger to the Best of the Capitol categories that concern her wardrobe. She’s previously been voted as being Best Dressed, having the Best Handbag and, as is again the case this year, having the Best Shoes.

Michele Reagan

Michele Reagan

Reagan makes no bones about her love of shoes, and one only needs to ask her about her footwear to get a whirlwind education on the challenges that come with ensuring the shoes and other accessories complement the rest of the outfit.

This year’s win is something of a redemption for Reagan, and comes after she was an honoree last year who felt she had the title locked up, boasting that it “was my year” and that she felt like “the LeBron James of shoes” at the Capitol. While last year’s confidence may have been misplaced, there is little doubt about her shoe superiority this year, as she captured nearly 50 percent of the votes in the five-way contest.

Gretchen Martinez, Gov. Doug Ducey’s chief lobbyist, said that was due to her confident sense of style.

“You’ve got to hand it to Secretary Reagan — her shoe buying philosophy echoes the words of another famous Reagan: ‘Bold colors, no pale pastels,’” Martinez said.

That margin of victory for Reagan also comes as little surprise to Steve Barclay, a lobbyist for the Beer and Wine Distributors of Arizona. “She is the Imelda Marcos of Arizona!” he joked, conjuring up the famed shoe collection of the former Filipino first lady.

For Mesa Republican activist and footwear fanatic Nancy Cottle, Reagan’s attention to detail has always struck a chord.

“As a shoe aficionado the first thing I notice are shoes. Secretary Reagan has a knack for complimenting her wardrobe with great ones. Stylish, colorful, classic and sophisticated… it’s all about the shoes!” she says.

Best Hair – Male

Ryan DeMenna

He may be a newcomer to the category, but Ryan DeMenna took the Best Hair – Male contest by storm, capturing nearly 45 percent of the vote. But what’s more surprising is that he hadn’t landed on the short list of finalists for the accolade before this year.

DeMenna, Ryan croppedDeMenna is instantly recognizable in the Capitol’s staid setting, his long locks setting him apart from the crowd.

“He has the hair I wish I had the guts and patience to grow,” says John Glenn, a lobbyist for the Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Since its inception, this category has had one mainstay nominee: First Strategic lobbyist Marcus Dell’Artino, whose own iconic hair has netted him several victories.

Dell’Artino said DeMenna is a worthy successor to the throne.

“Ryan represents the new long hair generation of rebel rousers who thankfully obtained the necessary genes from his mother. Once just a young pup, he has grown into the leader of the pack, and I look forward to receiving hair treatment advice at our weekly meetings,” he said.

Best Hair – Female

Eileen Klein

Eileen Klein has been one of the most powerful women in the state for years. And though that power has most often been wielded behind the scenes – her in-the-bright-lights bosses have included speakers of the House of Representatives and governors – Klein comports herself with an elegance and grace that makes her naturally suited for the spotlight.

Eileen Klein

Along with the respect she has earned for her work in government, Klein has earned fans of her blonde hair, always worn in a stylish yet sophisticated manner.

Public relations consultant Lisa James says Klein’s hair reflects her poise and aplomb.

“Whether conducting a Board of Regents meeting, briefing the governor or  even riding a horse in the Prescott Fourth of July Rodeo Parade, Eileen always looks fresh and professional, as if she’s just left the salon,” James says.

Best Lobbyist – Male

Don Isaacson, Isaacson & Walsh PC

Year in and year out, the Capitol community sends a consistent message: Don Isaacson is the cream of the crop. And every year, he has the same response: It’s an honor to be singled out from a group of hardworking men and women who strive to do their best representing their clients as professionally as possible.

(Submitted photo)

One doesn’t have to go far to find Capitol regulars and other lobbyists who sing Isaacson’s praises. Steve Trussell, executive director of the Arizona Rock Products Association, said Isaacson is respected because he is “a gentleman and exceedingly professional.”

Likewise, Pamela Wedemeyer, a research manager for Squire Patton Boggs, said Isaacson is known as a man of his word who won’t beat around the bush.

“Don is always up front and honest about his clients’ interests and positions, and approaches issues from a sound policy standpoint,” she said.

Joanne MacDonnell, the state’s deputy ombudsman, said the groups that have Isaacson advocating for them at the Capitol have put their interests in the hands of a “prepared, trustworthy and experienced” lobbyist – one who deserves to be called Best Lobbyist.

Best Lobbyist – Female

Gretchen Jacobs, Arizona Governmental Affairs

If the early part of the 2016 session was defined by the restoration of millions of dollars in funding for joint technical education districts, it was in large part because of the hard work in 2015 by Gretchen Jacobs, who has represented the career and technical education programs since 2009.

(Submitted photo)

Lawmakers acted quickly on the matter when the session convened in January, but the momentum that existed when the gavel fell to open the legislative session was the result of countless hours of advocacy by JTED proponents. Jacobs’ role was to make sure lawmakers had every bit of information on the matter they needed, and that they had access to the educators and administrators who have made JTEDs an Arizona success story – and whose work would be thrown on the scrap heap if the enacted cuts were actually implemented.

That work actually began in April 2015, as that year’s legislative session drew to a close and lawmakers prepared to approve delayed cuts to the programs.

“Her commitment to the Career and Technical Education cause was the ultimate example of perseverance,” says Matt Weber, superintendent of Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology, a JTED based in Snowflake.

Sen. Don Shooter, the primary legislative cheerleader for the JTED restoration, says he is most impressed by Jacobs’ ability to trump expectations – especially when she proposes something he and other observers think is impossible.

“Every time I laugh, she proves me wrong. She makes things happen because she so fervently believes in her cause that somehow, she makes everyone else believe. Each year I see her turn an idea from what once seemed incredibly ambitious to the point of naïveté, into a foregone conclusion,” he says. “Over the course of my time at the Capitol, I have seen Gretchen literally change the board from red to green, or vice versa, in a matter of minutes. Gretchen is the bee that stings the ox.”

Best Lobbyist Under 40 – Male

Steve Moortel, Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie

Steve MoortelFor years to come, 2016 will be remembered as the year that the Arizona Legislature restarted KidsCare, the health insurance program for children of low-income families, ending the state’s status as the only one in the nation without such a program. KidsCare had been suspended during the depths of the Great Recession, and though there was an opportunity to restart it with all of the costs being picked up by the federal government, there was nonetheless Republican resistance to the idea.

Enter Steve Moortel, whose clients at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie include Children’s Action Alliance, which has long advocated for KidsCare to be restored.

Nicole LaSlavic, the vice president of government affairs for the Arizona Association of Realtors, said the way Moortel maneuvered the political landscape on KidsCare “was a work of art,” capped off by parliamentary moves that resulted in the bill landing on Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk and earning a signature.

“When challenged with an insurmountable goal, he was the proverbial Trojan Horse. And well as we all know, the passage of this legislation was hailed statewide, not only due to the masterfully executed plan, but because his efforts will have lasting impact on children throughout Arizona,” LaSlavic said.

Best Lobbyist Under 40 – Female

Cheyenne Walsh, Isaacson & Walsh PC

Cheyenne Walsh’s win as Best Lobbyist Under 40 – Female represents a sweep of the lobbying categories for her firm, Isascson & Walsh PC, with her partner capturing the title in Best Lobbyist – Male. The two wins demonstrate that, not only is the firm one that is highly respected, but it is positioned to be so for years to come.

Walsh, Cheyenne“In her second year of lobbying on the Isaacson-Walsh Team, Cheyenne has proven to be an effective lobbyist tackling complicated issues such as water policy, education, and insurance. Cheyenne does this with a calmness and confidence that is becoming rare at the Capitol these days,” says Mike Huckins, vice president of public affairs for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

Though still under the age of 40, Walsh has been in the lobbying game for more than a decade, beginning at the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. Pamela Wedemeyer, a research manager for Squire Patton Boggs, praised Walsh’s “wealth of government and lobbying experience,” despite her youth.

“She is consistently able to compete with the big dogs and prevail,” Wedemeyer says.

Farrell Quinlan, Arizona state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said Walsh knows well how important a lobbyist’s reputation is to the work he or she does at the Capitol.

“Cheyenne has not only succeeded in enhancing her reputation as a knowledgeable and thorough lobbyist, she has maintained, even burnished, her impeccable reputation. Her recognition as one of the Capitol’s best is well-deserved and proof that quality will always shine through,” he said.

Best Government Lobbyist

Courtney McKinstry, Attorney General’s Office

McKinstry, CourtneyCourtney McKinstry knows the legislative process well, and she ought to: Just two years ago, she was a research analyst for the House of Representatives. In that capacity, she manned both the Committee on Insurance and Retirement and the Committee on Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs, learning the ins and outs of a complex process that can bedevil even seasoned veterans. Before that, she cut her teeth as a Senate intern, working on the Government Committee and the Committee on Border Security, Federalism and State Sovereignty.

Come 2015, McKinstry joined Mark Brnovich, the newly minted attorney general, as his office’s chief legislative liaison.

“Courtney is amazing, from research staffer to head lobbyist for the AG’s office in less than four years, her rise is meteoric!” says Michael Combrink, the director of government relations for the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office and one of McKinstry’s Senate intern comrades-in-arms.

Veteran lobbyist Steve Barclay praised McKinstry for her work ethic and demeanor on the job, something that often sounds easier in theory than it can be in practice.

“She makes it look easy, but she works very hard at her job. She’s always pleasant and professional, keeps her cool,” Barclay says.

Best Testifier in Committee

Janice Palmer, Arizona School Boards Association

She no longer will spend her time each spring testifying in legislative committees and meeting with legislators to describe the needs and concerns of school governing boards across the state after taking a job this year with Helios Education Foundation, but Janice Palmer left the Capitol with a reputation for being a straight-talker with a penchant for explaining complex education issues in a way that made it easy for everyone to understand.

Palmer, JaniceFew things in the public policy arena are more complicated than education, be it the policies that govern how schools operate or the way they are funded. Politics only makes things more difficult, but Palmer unfailingly handled herself with aplomb, even if she was facing hard questions from critical legislators.

“Even in extremely frustrating, sometime maddening, situations she approaches the podium with a smile and treats every legislator courteously,” says education advocate and lobbyist Linda Polito. “She makes her points and holds her ground fiercely, while always treating people with dignity and respect. I doubt that even legislators who have vigorously opposed education issues would have anything bad to say about Janice.”

The key to Palmer’s testifying style is reliance on facts and figures instead of emotion, says Penny Allee Taylor, the chief public policy officer for Valley of the Sun United Way. The result is a lack of “charged or misleading language that can be confusing and superfluous” to the legislation being discussed, she said.

And, as a result, Palmer’s word on a matter was as good as gold.

“Janice answers inquiries in a thoughtful and factual approach and also offers additional pertinent information to help members understand the broader issues around education,” Taylor says. “She is universally trusted and admired by those in the arena as a true professional and an asset to the education community.”

Best Capitol Staffer

Christina Corieri, Governor’s Office policy adviser

Inside and outside of Governor Doug Ducey’s office, Christina Corieri is hailed as a shining star in an office full of bright spots.

Corieri, Christina“Christina Corieri is by the most intelligent most capable hardest working member of the governor’s or anyone else’s staff,” says Danny Seiden, a deputy chief of staff to Ducey.

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham says she is simply “brilliant,” and lobbyist Steve Barclay calls her “super-smart and incredibly well-prepared,” as well as “fun to work with.”

Corieri was an early hire of the Ducey administration, joining the team as his health care policy adviser shortly after the new governor took the oath of office in January 2015.

Corieri has been active in the health care public policy since her time at Goldwater Institute. While there she led the group’s opposition to the 2013 expansion of AHCCCS eligibility. The next year, she was at the forefront of its push to convince Arizona voters to allow doctors to provide terminal patients with medications that haven’t yet been approved by federal regulators.

Best Political Rising Star – Male

Danny Seiden, Governor’s Office

Seiden, DannynewDanny Seiden has been a perennial nominee for Best Political Rising Star for five years running, winning several times. And though some may wonder how long a person can be viewed as a rising star, Seiden takes it in stride.

“At first I was not excited about this nomination,” he concedes. “But, you know what? I accept it with pride now, because I still have feats to accomplish and dreams to dreams.

“And, to quote Robert Frost, I have ‘miles to go before I sleep.’”

And it’s not as though Seiden’s stock hasn’t risen since first appearing among the honorees for Best Political Rising Star: There are few positions that out-rank deputy chief of staff to a popular governor. And since graduating from Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in 2008, he’s advanced from being an attorney at a local law firm to the chief lobbyist for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to having the governor’s ear.

Best Political Rising Star – Female

Rep. Jill Norgaard

As she finishes her first term in office, Rep. Jill Norgaard has a lot to be proud of and has a bright political future, political observers and her colleagues say.

Norgaard, JillRepublican Rep. Paul Boyer of Phoenix said Norgaard, a Phoenix Republican, is respectful but firm in her decisions, and makes a point to reach out to stakeholders on an issue to let them know where she stands and how she plans to vote.

“I think people just appreciate the frankness. We don’t always see a lot of that around here,” he said.

Republican Rep. Bob Robson of Chandler, Norgaard’s seatmate, said she has proven herself to be a “level and steady” freshman lawmaker. He cited a handful of education related bills Norgaard has sponsored, but also noted that she has helped local school boards with their problems without resorting to legislation.

“She realizes you don’t have to have a bill (to effect change),” he said.

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham praised her work ethic and dedication to serving the people of her district.

“She will be one to watch,” he said.

Best Political Operative

Jessica Pacheco, Arizona Public Service

Political operatives can only be successful if they have access to those in position to make decisions, and that access is best achieved (and maintained) by cultivating relationships, something Jessica Pacheco takes seriously.

Jessica-Pacheco2How does one do that? Sure, coffee and lunches are great, as are meetings in legislative offices. But the best of the best know that there needs to be a more personal touch to rise above the multitudes of other lobbyists and government affairs professionals who are all aiming to build relationships with policy makers and government officials.

Pacheco found a simple answer to let people know she is thinking about them: flowers.

“I send flowers to lawmakers on their birthdays. And for men, I send them a small plant,” she told Arizona Capitol Times in 2013.

Claude Monet, the 19th Century French impressionist painter, viewed flowers as the guiding force that led to his art. “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers,” he said.

One could also say that flowers have played a pivotal role in Pacheco’s success as a political operative.

Best PR Person

Daniel Scarpinato, Governor’s Office

When Daniel Scarpinato left Arizona in 2011 to move to Washington, D.C., to work as a regional press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, there was no certainty that he’d return to his home state, but the odds always seemed good to those who knew him.

Scarpinato, DanielWhen Doug Ducey was elected governor, an opportunity presented itself. Scarpinato, by that point the national press secretary for the NRCC, first hooked up with the governor-elect as the spokesman for his transition committee, then joined his administration as the deputy chief of staff for communications.

His work earned him a nomination last year for Best PR Person, but he fell short of a victory. But his supporters were confident this year would be different.

“It’s Scarp’s year! He’s like the Susan Lucci of this award!” said Danny Seiden, a deputy chief of staff to Ducey.

Chad Heywood, a political consultant and former executive director for the Arizona Republican Party, says Scarpinato brings a lot more to the table than most public relations professionals, given his experience at various levels of government, on all sides of the campaign trail and, before that, as a political journalist.

“His talent, judgment, and experience in a wide set of public relations avenues, including digital media set him apart from all the rest,” Heywood says.

Best PR Firm

Marson Media

For the second year in a row, Barrett Marson takes home runner-up status as the best individual public relations practitioner, but captures a win for Best PR Firm – a dichotomy, to be sure, given that his firm consists of himself.

Marson Media logoMarson Media has a full dance card in 2016 as the campaign season kicks into high gear, representing a variety of interests ranging from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol ballot initiative, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu’s congressional campaign and former Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn’s campaign for the Corporation Commission.

And all of that is on top of his non-campaign stable of clients, including the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association.

A former member of the Capitol press corps, Marson moved into government PR in 2005, becoming the spokesman for the House of Representatives. Four years later, he was the top spokesman for the Department of Corrections, and then he formed Marson Media.

“Barrett is a great blend of opposites: tough talk but a kind heart, with the cynicism of a reporter but an enduring belief in his causes and the power of words,” says lobbyist Beth Lewallen.

Best Twitterer

Barrett Marson (@barrettmarson)

Marson, BarrettTwitter is the perfect platform for Barrett Marson: It is a home for short, outrageous soundbites and analysis, and it provides an opportunity for self-promotion that any small businessperson worth his or her salt would be wise to take advantage of – especially if that person’s business is promoting the interests of clients.

His Twitter feed is a mélange of snarky political observations, advocacy for his clients (this time of year, mostly campaigns) and an insightful breakdown of the news du jour. And be on the lookout for Marson pitching prospective clients for work – something that sometimes comes in the form of one of those snarky observations, as was the case June 19 when he offered the United States Golf Association his services to respond to “this total cluster of a situation you’ve created” at the U.S. Open tournament in exchange for free golf.

Best Grassroots Effort

JTED funding restoration

Grassroots efforts are defined by their organic organization, bottom-up advocacy and persistence in the face of political adversity. The push to restore funding for joint technical education districts, known as JTEDs, is a classic example of grassroots activism.

JTEDThe endeavor got underway in April 2015, immediately after legislators approved a $30 million cut to JTEDs that would take effect in July 2016. Officials in the districts, which provide career and technical education to high school students, began sounding the alarm that the cuts were far worse than lawmakers were led to believe.

The cuts effectively threatened to reduce funding to the point where it would be impossible to continue the programs at all, and JTED leaders and backers concluded that they would spell the end to the districts.

During the summer and fall, JTED advocates started spreading their message in earnest, hoping to accomplish two things. First, they sought to explain to lawmakers what JTEDs did, who they served and what educational and economic benefits they provided. Second, they worked to find a champion of the cause, a Republican who could rally the troops and help build support for restoring the funds.

They found that champion in Sen. Don Shooter, the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He facilitated meetings with JTED officials and his Republican colleagues. Within a few months, it was clear there was a groundswell of support among rank-and-file legislators in both parties to restore the funding. That feeling wasn’t shared by Republican leadership, but as the session began, it became apparent that there was next to no chance of stopping the restoration from winning the support it needed to pass.

Best Power Couple

Sen. John and Fountain Hills Mayor Linda Kavanagh

KavanaghMarried couples often share similar interests, and it’s not uncommon for that interest to be politics, but it’s not often that spouses end up in elected office at the same time, much less that each ends up in a position of power in his or her respective arena.

And that is what makes the Kavanaghs truly rare and a bona fide power couple in Arizona politics. John Kavanagh was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, and he quickly rose to a position of prominence, chairing the House Appropriations Committee. He led the committee for six years, then moved over to the Senate in 2015, where he became vice-chairman of the chamber’s Appropriations Committee.

After being involved in a host of civic activities since moving to Fountain Hills in 1993, Linda Kavanagh was elected the town’s mayor in 2012, then re-elected in 2014.

The result is a type synergy between the state Capitol and that is rare, but gives municipalities a new avenue to voice their views on legislative matters.

Republican activist Nancy Cottle says the Kavanaghs “just seem to be a very happy” pair of powerful politicos. “Imagine the pillow talk that must go on!” she joked.

Best Industry Trade & Professional Association, Best Awards Event

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry/ Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry Heritage Awards

The inaugural winner of Best Industry Trade & Professional Association is the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and it is little wonder why. As the most influential business group in the state, the Arizona Chamber has the ability to bring its issues to policymakers at the Capitol and gain an audience.

2013 AZ Chamber of Commerce logoThe value in that for its members is obvious: When they have concerns, be they about regulations, taxes, education or infrastructure, the Arizona Chamber is able to get a foot in the door and advocate meaningfully for those business needs.

The Arizona Chamber’s effectiveness was on display in this year’s push for ending cuts to career and technical education programs. While the effort to restore the funding had its start among the education advocacy community, the Arizona Chamber was at the forefront by the time the legislative session began in January. Its work was essential in communicating to lawmakers the value the programs provide, not only for the students who graduate from them, but for the businesses that are then able to employ those graduates.

The Arizona Chamber also takes home top honors for Best Awards Event for its annual Heritage Awards that honors individuals whose accomplishments and commitment to Arizona are such that they are recognized not just in Arizona, but nationally and internationally. Past recipients include Barry Goldwater, Sandra Day O’Connor, Mo Udall, Jon Kyl and Jan Brewer.

Best Charity

Cortney’s Place

Cortney’s Place is the hands-down winner of another new category for 2016, Best Charity, for the work it does with Arizona’s special needs population providing programs ranging from basic life skills to specialized therapy.

cortneys-place-golf-event-thumbnail CUTOUTAnd the charity has a tie to Arizona’s political community. Political consultant Meghan Cox credits Cortney’s Place with being a turning point for her brother, Sean, who has Down syndrome and requires care during the day. She said they looked at more than two dozen different day programs before visiting Cortney’s Place.

“Sean has blossomed in the Cortney’s environment,” she said. “As a very structured environment with set schedules and activities, Sean looks forward to a weekly calendar which includes volunteering at a retirement home, outings, music therapy, pet therapy and water therapy, cooking and making good nutritional choices.

“Most importantly, Sean has found both peers and support in a safe space.”

Christina Worden, one of Cox’s friends and a public affairs officer for Salt River Project, said she has seen the change in Sean since he began going to Cortney’s Place.

“Sean went from a very shy to a very outgoing young man in large part thanks to Cortney’s Place,” she said.

Best After Hours Hangout, Best Place to Impress a Client


It just wouldn’t be a Best of the Capitol without honoring the legendary Durant’s, not that it needs any additional recognition as one of Phoenix’s iconic landmarks and the cornerstone of political happenings for generations.

DurantsSince opening in 1950, it has combined great food, a cool atmosphere and refreshing libations in a way that few places can claim. And you can always spot a regular by the way they enter the restaurant – through the kitchen.

The restaurant’s founder, Jack Durant, was memorialized in film last year with “Durant’s Never Closes” and played by Tom Sizemore. His motto was simple: “Good friends, great steaks and the best booze are the necessities of life.”

As good as the steaks may be, Danny Seiden, a deputy chief of staff to Ducey, is smitten with the hospitality afforded to customers in the bar.

“When you order a beer, they give a tooth pick with salami and cheese on it. It’s amazing,” he said.

Best Capitol Lawn Event

Arizona Mining Day at the Legislature

Arizona Mining Association Best Lawn EventWho can be disappointed when massive trucks and other heavy-duty mining equipment invades the Capitol mall? Certainly not Arizona Capitol Times readers, who have given their stamp of approval to the 2016 Arizona Mining Day at the Legislature and awarded it Best Capitol Lawn Event.

The annual event features the kinds of equipment that instantly transports observers back to their childhood, when one could freely marvel at things like gigantic trucks built for hauling tons of ore and machines whose sole purpose is to carve into the earth and retrieve the minerals buried deep inside.

Seeing those mechanical marvels, in contrast with the staid government buildings at the Capitol, evokes a sense of wonder and awe for many Capitol regulars and provides a brief escape from the business of the day – at least until the next committee hearing begins.

Best Cocktail Party

Arizona Rock Products Association “The Rock”

During the legislative session, the place to be each month for an evening of mingling and sipping on cocktails is “The Rock,” the monthly cocktail parties hosted by the Arizona Rock Products Association. For the second year in a row, it has been feted by Arizona Capitol Times readers as the cream of the crop.

ARPA Logo_BelowKelly Norton, president of the Arizona Mining Association, says the event provides a great opportunity for “good conversation” with the policymakers, lobbyists and legislative staff who attend.

Nicole LaSlavic, the vice president of government affairs for the Arizona Association of Realtors, says there’s really only one way for the Rock Products Association to improve the existing formula: “If you could actually get Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson at this event, that would be pretty cool.”

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